The leaks were right, Battlefield 1 sees DICE stepping back 100 years and setting the next game amid the action of the first World War. Biplanes, landships, and bayonet charges all feature, giving a field of battle we've rarely seen in gaming before.
However, from what I've seen and heard (which was a preview of the reveal trailer, some extra footage of the game being played, and a roundtable with a couple of the developers) the game itself will be very familiar. This appears to be DICE taking the earliest point in history it can and still fit into the same Battlefield format we're used to.
As in the other Battlefield games, you can play as an assault, medic, support, or sniper; there are rifles, pistols, machine guns, and shotguns; you can fly planes, drive tanks, ride motorbikes, and sail ships. For the large part this is Battlefield dressed in First World War clothing. Personally, I can't wait to jump into a red biplane and dive into a dogfight pretending to be the Red Baron, nor do I want to miss the opportunity of getting behind the wheels of the behemoth-like primordial tanks of 1914. Yet, at the same time it may look like 100-year-old warfare but there was nothing shown that suggests it will play like 100-year-old warfare. Yes, that was a time when shotguns and flamethrowers first appeared on the battlefield but they were also terrible weapons, liable to kill the shooter as much as the target. It was a time when rifles were accurate to the hundreds of meters, not the thousands. Nothing on show suggested that unreliability would make it into the game. So it may look like World War 1 but you won't play it like World War 1.
A reason many shooter developers have never got much earlier than the Second World War is because tactically combat before then was fought in trenches. It was a war of attrition, where the army that ran out of men to walk into the enemies' machine guns was the army that lost. DICE has overcome that problem seemingly, not by making the conflict of the First World War mechanically interesting but by dropping modern conflict into an older time.
What we saw nothing of, but I left the auditorium most excited to learn more about, is the single player campaign. It sounds like DICE has recognised that a linear campaign is not in the spirit of a battlefield game - a sandbox shooter packed with vehicles in massive maps. The developers on stage, design director Lars Gustavsson and senior producer Aleksander Grøndal, talked about giving players in the new campaign more agency. They talked about how a linear map is not in the spirit of Battlefield and that, with the new campaign, the level designers started with Battlefield moments (large vehicle scrums, infantry pushes through fields crisscrossed with tanks and bombers in the sky above) and then found ways to build levels around them. It sounds like we might be getting a shooter campaign akin to the games of the early '00s, before Call of Duty: Modern Warfare changed the mold.
It was also revealed that the campaign will see you fight as multiple protagonists who will bring a number of different perspectives to the conflict. If I were to hazard a guess I would think that means you'll play as the Arabic rider in the trailer, as well as a soldier on the Western front, and potentially as a sailor involved in the naval campaign. Hopefully, the campaign will be an opportunity to explore the unique elements of the first World War in a way that a multiplayer sandbox doesn't lend itself to. After all, the First World War was one of the first conflicts to see chemical warfare, high instances of post-traumatic stress, and, well, mud.
That might seem like a strange point to bring up but one of the things about the First World War, a result of the months of fighting on the same strips of land, was that the battlefields disintegrated into thick, tank-swallowing mud. I'm really interested to see what DICE turn their destruction tech into when it comes to terrain deformation. I'd love to see maps become churned up, crater-ridden, mud holes, dotted with bombed out buildings and the wrecked carcasses of vehicles.
I am excited for Battlefield 1. I want a new and improved Battlefield, especially one that evokes something of the original Battlefield 1942 roots, but those games aren't going anywhere so I would have been nice to see DICE try to change its format into something that fit the time, rather than change the time to fit the format.
We don't have long to wait to play the game ourselves. DICE announced Battlefield 1 will be out on October 21st.